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  • Writer's pictureScience & Environment

Is Taylor Swift Our Climate Change Anti-Hero?

Taylor Swift threatens college student Jack Sweeney with legal action over jet tracking 

By Georgie Burns

Taylor Swift in Concert by Eva Rinaldi via Flickr

We are at a tipping point in our battle against climate change as, for the first time, global warming has exceeded 1.5°C across an entire year, according to the EU's climate service. In response to the impending crisis, many vigilante climate heroes have put on their capes and begun to fight little battles in the hope of impacting the world’s massive carbon footprint. 

One such hero is Jack Sweeney, a University of Central Florida student who started publishing the private air miles of many public figures in 2022 across social media, with a 24-hour delay to avoid doxxing (the act of publishing identifiable information about an individual without their permission) with live tracking. This jet tracking is all about drawing attention to the massive environmental impact of luxury celebrity travel and holding celebrities accountable for their, often substantial, carbon footprints. This goal was made evident in 2018 when a study found that the wealthiest one per cent of air travellers are responsible for half of all aviation carbon dioxide emissions. However, every vigilante has its enemies, and Sweeney is no different: he has received threats from Elon Musk, been blocked from X (Twitter), and previously been blocked on Instagram and Facebook.

As you may have seen or guessed, one of the prominent figures Sweeny tracks is Taylor Swift - the fourteen-time Grammy winner with a global army of fans. Over the last few years, Taylor has starred in some less flattering headlines among her wins, including being named

the “biggest celebrity CO2 polluter this year so far” in 2022 and the “world’s most carbon polluting celebrity” in the December just passed.

Calculation based on Sweeney’s Instagram account shows that Taylor Swift’s jets (yes, jets: she has two!) were responsible for over 8,300 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022 (2023’s emissions have not yet been calculated), and although her representation contested this, many sites and papers are producing remarkably similar numbers. These tonnes were not all down to her arena tours; Sweeney recorded that Swift took twelve private flights to see her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, resulting in 138 tonnes of emissions in just three months. She has invested in carbon credits to reduce her tour's impact; however, this route is notorious for its greenwashing tendencies and seems to have minimal tangible impact. 

Sweeney’s Taylor Swift account is the newest under scrutiny, with Swift’s attorneys threatening legal action over his account, citing  “stalking and harassing behaviour”, in December. Swift’s claim has some credibility, as she has been the victim of numerous stalkers in recent years, who could have used Sweeney’s account to help pinpoint her location. However, all of Sweeney’s tracking information is from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a source open and available to the public, and is all posted with a 24-hour delay - arguably giving no more details on her location than her own publicity team provides, like her tour dates. Sweeney has told the Post he believes the threat of legal action is “probably a scare tactic” and highlighted that the threat only came after the negative press regarding the environmental impact of her jets. 

Overall, opinion is split on whether Swift’s claims are justified. Hundreds of social media posts supporting Swift are encouraging her to fight for her privacy and safety. However, just as many people believe she is only covering up her indifference to her carbon footprint contributions, as all the information is public and has not been directly linked to any of the stalker incidents which have occurred. 

Taylor Swift is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of our time, having captured the hearts of millions worldwide. However, things get murky when it comes to her stance on climate change. She has the potential to be a hero for the cause; however, her recent actions, such as suing a young climate advocate and using private jets so frequently, make her look more like the anti-hero of this fight. 


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